A. Lopping off the tops of crape myrtles is a common ritual in the Gulf Coast area during early spring. Proponents of this method cite increased blooms and control of tree size as their primary reasons for such severe pruning.
The down side is that it destroys the natural beauty of the tree. Crape myrtles do not require major pruning to bloom. Flowers are produced, without any pruning, on new growth. Some of the most spectacular floral displays can be seen on old, unpruned crape myrtles along roadsides. Flower clusters are usually smaller on unpruned crape myrtles, but the number of flower clusters is greater. Therefore, the overall floral impact of the plant is not reduced.
The crape myrtle, with its distinctive smooth bark and graceful limbs, requires only minor pruning to maintain its natural shape. Dead or broken branches may be pruned at any time of the year. You may need to prune branches that rub against each other or those that are infringing on your house.
In early spring, you should remove the new suckers that grow from the trunks or in the ground around the base of the tree. Trimming off the seedpods after blooming will encourage more blooms in the summer but will not affect the blooms for next year, as crape myrtles bloom on new wood.
The best way to manage the size of the crape myrtle and ensure its health is to first choose the right one for your landscape. Select a crape myrtle that will fit the space you have for it. There are many varieties, from ground covers to semi-dwarfs to trees 30 feet or more in height. The best way to keep a crape myrtle at a manageable height and at a particular size is to plant a known cultivar that will mature at the desired height and spread ó and then donít prune it! Powdery mildew-resistant varieties are also available.
Crape myrtles should be planted in full sun, allowing for good air circulation. An application of balanced fertilizer in the spring is all that is needed. Natural rainfall is generally sufficient to maintain the crape myrtle; however, during extended periods of dry weather, the tree should be thoroughly watered along its root zone.
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